Horse lovers find welcome space in high-end ranches and farms.By Jennifer Martin
The farm and ranch market is a distinct world catering to savvy buyers who tend to know exactly what they’re looking for — the best amenities for their horses. Unique Homes spoke with Realtors for an update on the farm and ranch market nationwide.
Wellington ~ Florida
Every year, thousands of horse enthusiasts converge on this southern Florida enclave for the prestigious Winter Equestrian Festival Horse Show. “The show gets larger and larger every year,” says Realtor Karen Connelly, president of Equestrian Properties, in Wellington. “It’s an amazing convergence of very skilled riders.”
Lying near the ritzy shops and restaurants of Palm Beach, the festival is complemented by other horse events year-round, including international polo and dressage. Lou Dobbs, Bruce Springsteen, Kelly Ripa and other celebrities are known to attend the events, but are rarely bothered by paparazzi or fans. Wellington is an environment where high-profile spectators can relax in a setting of privacy.
The Realtors themselves tend to be horse enthusiasts. Connelly, who owns a racehorse named Under Contract, says she enjoys scouting out properties that are perfect for those in the competitive circuit. She recently listed a $5.8 million property with a four-bedroom home, grooms’ quarters, two rings for jumping and dressage, and an 18-stall barn with a lounge area and full bath.
This property also conveniently lies near the site of the Winter Equestrian Festival, offering a short distance to travel for competitors. Buyers can rent out their stalls to other competitors for $8,000 to $10,000 per stall per season.
“The home becomes an investment that produces income,” says Realtor Laura O’Connor of The Keyes Company in Wellington. “You can also rent the home for $10,000 to $15,000 a month, depending on its location and its amenities.”
O’Connor has been an award-winning equestrian for many years. She says Wellington has become an international hub as competitors come from as far away as England, Sweden, Germany and South America.
“You go out and you hear French, German, Dutch, Spanish and many other languages,” she says. “You meet so many interesting and successful people. It’s a fabulous experience.”
O’Connor recently listed the home of McLain Ward, an American show jumping competitor and Olympic gold medalist, at $2.25 million. Lying just a two-minute walk from the festival grounds, the four-bedroom, three-bathroom home comes with a groom’s quarters, round pen and a five-stall barn with a permit to add up to three more stalls.
“There are some phenomenal buys,” says Realtor Marley Goodman of Illustrated Properties in Wellington. “People can get a great amount of acreage for a great deal.”
In the outskirts of Wellington, Goodman says, buyers can get a 10-acre property with a four- to five-bedroom home, 20-stall barn, plus amenities such as tennis courts and a pool, for between $1.9 million and $4.5 million.
Goodman competes as an amateur on weekends with a horse named U-2. She has won multiple awards competing throughout Europe and North America, and she knows many people on the equestrian circuit. “It used to be that Europeans dominated the equestrian world, but the Americans are definitely rising,” she says.
The swelling tide of visitors to Wellington is bringing more potential home buyers, particularly as American youths become more interested in the sport. “The numbers are up here, because you can’t beat the location,” she says.
Santa Barbara ~ California
For more than 80 years, the Santa Barbara National Horse Show has attracted horse lovers from around the globe for multiple dressage events. Interest remains strong in ranch properties in the area, in part because prices are adjusting downward, says Realtor Kerry Mormann of Kerry Mormann & Associates.
“Since 2007, we’ve seen a 20- to 40-percent decrease. Many appraisers think we’re back to 2003 and 2004 levels,” he says. “But I’ve seen a spike in interest among our potential buyers in the past three to four months. There seems to be more optimism about the economy.”
Also, Santa Barbara does not have as great a supply of ranch properties as other areas of the country, making land more valuable. The general consensus is that the Santa Barbara area will see a significant price rebound within a couple of years, Mormann says.
Coastal properties generally command the best prices, but some inland properties are lucrative finds, as well. Mormann lists a ranch and vineyard estate that previously belonged to dancer Fred Astaire for $8.5 million. Lying along the Santa Ynez River, the 495-acre property comes with a 6,000-square-foot, Spanish-style barn, three other homes, a pool, lighted tennis court, office, gym, sauna and studio. “We started the listing at $11 million,” Mormann adds. “This property is an incredible value and a real showcase.”
For the outdoor sports enthusiast who also owns horses, Colorado is a dream destination. It’s a good time to buy: Ranch and farm prices here have decreased modestly from their heights in 2005, Realtors say.
In the southwestern part of the state, prices are 15- to 30-percent lower than they were six years ago, says Realtor Tom Morse, founder of Legacy Properties West, LLC, based in Durango. “We’ve got triple the buyer interest that we had two years ago,” Morse adds. “Everyone seems to be doing better, and since the tax compromise, people at least know what the rules are for the next two years.”
The “hottest” properties encompass outdoor amenities such as a river, access to forest land and ample acreage for horseback riding. One of Morse’s properties, the Estate at Keyah Grande, is nestled on more than 100 acres and lies adjacent to unspoiled wilderness in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. Listed at $16.5 million, the property includes a 22,000-square-foot home.
“When you have a quality property with the amenities people are looking for, that property tends to get a premium,” Morse says. “And those are the ones that are selling.”
Similarly, Ron Weisser has had no trouble selling parcels of land in his prestigious development High Aspen Ranch, which he launched in 2005. Out of 29 original parcels, two remain, each spanning about 36 acres and standing at an elevation of about 7,700 feet.
“High Aspen is just a fun place to be,” Weisser says. “Not only do you have beautiful views of the Aspen valley, the people here are well traveled and successful, and there’s a good family atmosphere.”
Homes range from $3 million to $10 million. Though most are second homes, owners come back year-round for outdoor recreation, Weisser says. High Aspen Ranch offers amenities such as a clubhouse, stables, riding trails, horse arenas and fly-fishing ponds.
“We’ve got something pretty unique,” Weisser says.
Roanoke ~ Virginia
Realtor Bill Gearhart enjoys Roanoke for many reasons — the symphony, theater, museum, excellent schools and breathtaking views of the Blue Ridge and Appalachian mountains, among them. People think of Roanoke as an affordable country escape, he says, and interest has remained strong. “In the high-end farm market, the prices started stabilizing between 2009 and 2010,” says Gearhart, president of Coldwell Banker Townside.
Gearhart just sold a 57-acre farm with a riding ring and 4,000-square-foot home for only $1 million. One of his active listings, Sundance East Farm, is a 357-acre cattle farm for $2.2 million. Its 3,100-square-foot, rustic-sided home includes vaulted ceilings and exposed beams.
Gearhart noted the Roanoke residential market also continues to draw steady interest; condominiums sell for up to $2 million. “We have 10 colleges and universities within an hour of us, and we’re within five hours of the Atlantic Ocean,” he says. “There’s a lot to offer for a community this size.”
Lexington ~ Kentucky
In 2010, The Wall Street Journal rated Lexington, Kentucky, as one of the 10 best investment markets for residential real estate. Stable jobs and moderate growth protect the real estate market from extreme swings.
“For the past couple of years, farm prices have gone down maybe 10 percent per year,” says Realtor Arnold Kirkpatrick, president of Kirkpatrick & Company, whose management team includes two equine veterinarians. “The interest here remains very strong.”
For $2 million to $5 million, buyers can obtain between 80 and 500 acres of land, depending on the size of the home and other amenities. Kirkpatrick lists a 40-acre parcel with an 11,000-square-foot stone home that once belonged to the Harkness family, some of the early investors in Standard Oil. It contains a ship’s bar finished with fixtures from a yacht that served as a troop carrier in World War I. The home’s price has been reduced from $5 million to $4.5 million.
Kirkpatrick says buyers continue to show a strong interest in Lexington even though the thoroughbred business is undergoing a significant contraction. “We’ve had an infusion of horses in other disciplines,” he says. “We had World Equestrian Games here in September and October, and we just put $100 million into the Kentucky Horse Park. There are more full-time residents involved in sporting horse breeds, and I think that will be an increasing phenomenon around here.”